HBO’s “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” — the emotional, extensive documentary about the late rock star who committed suicide in 1994 — is often difficult to watch. Even more challenging, however, is to look away from the scenes that feature Cobain’s wife, Courtney Love.
Cobain and Love’s daughter, Frances Bean, is an executive producer of the two-hour film, which chronicles Cobain’s quick and deeply troubling rise to worldwide fame as the frontman of Nirvana. Frances doesn’t appear in the documentary, but her mother is heavily featured in the last half of the film telling stories about her life and marriage with Cobain.
“Montage of Heck” is a portrait of a reluctant superstar, and filmmaker Brett Morgen had full access to Cobain’s home movies, journals, recordings and more, given to him by Love and Frances. The film is billed as the “authorized” profile of Cobain, thanks to his family’s cooperation. While pieces of many stories have been floating around for years, here were some of the more intimate details that Love shared about Cobain.
Why they connected
Much of the documentary focused on how Cobain couldn’t adjust to the pressures of fame. Nirvana bass player Krist Novoselic described it as “traumatic” to go from a Seattle grunge band to the most famous musical group in the world — so they all turned to different methods of escape. “I’m lucky I had beer and wine,” Novoselic said. “Kurt had heroin.”
Cobain also desperately sought a strong family connection that he didn’t have growing up (his parents divorced when he was young), and Novoselic theorizes that’s why he gravitated toward Love, the lead singer for Los Angeles punk band Hole. Sitting for an interview in the film and occasionally stopping to smoke a cigarette, Love explained her initial attraction to Cobain when the couple met in 1990.
“He was super-cute, but he carried himself as someone who didn’t know that,” Love said. “And that was part of the charm. He didn’t know he was a better-looking guy than Brad Pitt.”
Love shares that she had already done heroin and “beat the thing,” but when they met, Cobain’s fantasy was to make $3 million and then just be a junkie.
After they got married:
*After they wed in April 1992, Cobain famously took six months off from touring — even though Nirvana was the biggest band on the planet at the time. “He could have toured the world and made a [huge amount] of money,” Morgen says in the film, wondering why Cobain just wanted to sit around an apartment with Love.
“Yeah,” Love said. “He wanted to stay in the apartment and do heroin and paint. And play the guitar. That’s what he wanted to do.”
Many of Cobain’s handwritten romantic notes are featured: “You taught me it’s okay to be a man.” “Courtney, when I say I love you I am not ashamed. Nor will anyone ever come close to intimidating me into thinking otherwise.” “I love you more than my mother.”
Much of the documentary is dedicated to home movies, a jarring experience to see Cobain and Love goofing off at home just like an everyday normal couple.
“This is our house, this is where we live, sometimes it’s nice,” Love says to herself as she takes a video camera on a guided tour.
“Do we have a turkey baster?” Cobain yells from the other room.
It’s also filled with couple-y banter. “Hi honey … you are so cute,” Love purrs, pointing the camera at Cobain. But then viewers are brought back into their world as Love picks up a Kurt Cobain action figure. “I think he looks, remarkably, a lot like you,” she says of the toy.
The movies and photos get increasingly intimate, as there’s a close-up video of Cobain and Love kissing, followed by photos with and without clothes. During a scene where Love and Cobain are shown getting ready together in the bathroom, Cobain is shaving while Love drops her towel for the camera — not the last time that happens.
Love said that she got pregnant with Frances before the wedding, but having kids was always the plan.
“Oh God, yes, we wanted to have a baby,” she said. “We were all we had, so making a family as fast as possible was important. If I had more time, I’m telling you, I would have had more kids with him.”
“I did do heroin when I was pregnant, and then I stopped. And I knew she would be fine,” Love said. “So it was never a concern that our child would have — I assured him I was built like an oxen and could carry this pregnancy to term and not have any problems.”
Love continued: “But you know, I was a young woman. The pregnancy isn’t a problem, it’s the being around a junkie while I’m pregnant when I’m a junkie too. And I know the minute the baby’s out I’m going to go shoot up in celebratory fashion. You know what I mean? That was our lifestyle.”
The film showed the fall-out from a Vanity Fair story that had lines like “sources maintain the Cobains are heavily into heroin” and alleged that Love took drugs while she was pregnant.
“Vanity Fair was one vicious and horrible thing nobody believes anyway,” Cobain wrote in a journal. Love often referred to herself as the most hated woman in America — Cobain assured her that title belonged to Roseanne Barr.
Still, at one concert, he told the audience that she needed their support. “There’s been some pretty extreme things written about us, especially my wife; she thinks everybody hates her now,” Cobain told the crowd, and got everyone to scream “Courtney, we love you!”
Regardless of the denials, after Frances was born, the Los Angeles County Department of Children’s Services forced Love and Cobain to temporarily give up the baby to Love’s sister. While they got custody back, the officials continued to monitor the home environment.
Life with Frances Bean
There are lots of adorable home movies of baby Frances, which show Cobain running around and making her laugh. It’s pretty heartbreaking to see.
“The thought of losing my baby haunts me every day,” he wrote in another journal. In another interview, he said he learned from his parents’ mistakes, and would always show more affection than his father. “The thing we’re determined to do is give Frances as much love as we can,” Cobain said. “If anything is going to stop me from pursuing this rock and roll thing, it’ll be her. Because I don’t want her to be screwed up because of it.”
The tragic end
Love tells Morgen that she never cheated on Cobain — however, one time she thought about having an affair while she was in London. Somehow, Cobain (who was in Rome) picked up on what was about to happen, and his response was drastic.
“I could have done it and the response to it was he took 67 Rohypnol and ended up in a coma because I thought about cheating on him,” Love said. “I didn’t even make the phone call to do it.”
Cobain recovered from the coma, though the documentary showed some of his other words in his journal, as he had struggled with depression: “Kill yourself” scribbled over and over. “I hate myself and I want to die.”
Soon after this sequence, the film ends, quite suddenly with this caption: “One month after returning from Rome, Kurt Cobain took his own life. He was 27 years old.”
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